Where in the world is Shawn on Wednesdays?

This is my office on Wednesdays:

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I’m writing this as I sit in a Barnes and Noble in north Indianapolis. This is my office for the afternoon as I work on my sermon, answer emails, do some reflective and creative thinking, and catch up on some reading. I’m also observing a group of four college students looking at a total of eight screens (four laptops and four smart phones). At the same time I’m eavesdropping on a couple of loud talkers who have been conversing for the last two hours about cancer, the Mayan calendar, apocalypse, work, and what does it mean to be selfish. I also had a fun conversation about Halloween with Robert the barista (who is on a first name basis with many of the customers here).

Other places that I have been on my day out include: The public library, walking the business and retail streets downtown as well as the blocks that are populated by people who can’t afford to shop at the downtown stores, Butler University, Christian Theological Seminary, downtown Carmel (a fast growing, designer suburb), and Broad Ripple (a trendy/artsy district). Our office administrator suggested that I spend a day riding the city bus system, which is a great idea and high on my list to do.

Part of my extroversion mean that I love to be around people. It stimulates my thinking to work in an environment where I get to observe and talk to all sorts of folks.  It also serves a very important purpose in my ministry.

I’ve developed this ritual that I do when I go to lunch.  After ordering I don’t get out my phone, my netbook, or my e-book reader. Instead, I purposely sit there and glance around at the other people in the restaurant and I ask myself, “What does our church have to offer you?”  Week after week I come up with different answers, based on my imprecise assessment of who they are and what may be going on in their life.

While the answers differ for each person, they fall into one general category. What does our church have to offer you? A lot…but we probably need to do a better job of offering it.

Our church has a lot to offer:

  • Hope – the message that ultimately love and life is stronger than pain and suffering.
  • Care – a community that bakes meals for each other, and lifts up those in need
  • A way of life that makes a better world
  • A nurturing environment where children can learn to be loving and compassionate

But I don’t think that these are the first things that come to many people’s minds when they think of church. And I want to do my part to change that.

So on Wednesdays you will find me out and about. I’ll be exploring, listening, talking, thinking, writing, observing, and asking “What does our church have to offer you?”



Daniel Cui and Why the Church Exists

A reminder for the church:

Three things happened in this video:

  1. One person noticed someone struggling and decided to do something.
  2. They asked people that they knew to help.
  3. Their community saw something good and joined in.

I’ve seen this happen time and time again in the churches I’ve served. The struggles are different, but the care and support has been the same. It may be divorce, death of a loved one, addiction, sickness, or job loss, but each time there’s been one person who has taken the first step to notice someone struggling and decided that they needed to be the one who would do something to help.  Unfortunately, I’ve also seen times in the church where someone’s struggles go unnoticed, or if they are noticed no one is quite sure what to do, so they don’t do anything.

As I’m beginning as Co-Pastor of my new church, I’ve been reading and thinking a lot about why the church exists. I’m currently resonating with three purposes articulated well by Bill Easum.

  • Show and share with others the way of life that Jesus modeled (Matthew 28:16-20)
  • Equip congregation members to be developed in their faith and active in service to the church and the world (Ephesians 4:12)
  • Support and care for one another in a Christ-like way (John 21:15-17)

The last purpose is what the video above illustrates. The church should be a community where members take direct responsibility for the well-being and care of other members. Easum uses Jesus’ directive to Peter in John 21 as a model. In response to Peter’s declaration of love for Jesus, Jesus tells him three times to, “Feed my sheep.” Easum points out that it wasn’t the shepherd’s job to directly feed the sheep in 1st century Israel, instead the shepherd guided them in such a way that the flock could feed and take care of themselves.

If any church is to live into our call to care and support one another, it’s going to take the whole flock. Each member needs to be responsible for noticing the struggles of others and doing something about it. The Pastor cannot be the only person, or even the primary person, who can offer care and support to members in need. Members need to be making hospital visits, bringing communion to those who are homebound, asking others to become involved in caring, and making contact (in and outside of church) with visitors.

If you are part of a church I encourage you to be responsible for the care of those you around you, and create (or continue) a community like the one that Daniel Cui had.


I’ve got a feeling

“Religion is the outcome neither of the fear of death, nor of the fear of God. It answers a deep need in man. It is neither a metaphysic, nor a morality, but above all and essentially an intuition and a feeling. … Dogmas are not, properly speaking, part of religion: rather it is that they are derived from it. Religion is the miracle of direct relationship with the infinite; and dogmas are the reflection of this miracle. Similarly belief in God, and in personal immortality, are not necessarily a part of religion; one can conceive of a religion without God, and it would be pure contemplation of the universe; the desire for personal immortality seems rather to show a lack of religion, since religion assumes a desire to lose oneself in the infinite, rather than to preserve one’s own finite self.” Friedrich Schleiermacher

I didn’t read any Schleiermacher in seminary, but maybe I should have. When I read this quote of his in Diana Butler Bass’s Christianity After Religion (which is a must-read for anyone who care about the future of churches), I felt like I had found someone who “gets” me.

I’ve never had a burning bush encounter with God. Many people can point to a moment in their life when they had a tangible feeling of God’s presence with them, but that’s not me. I’m a pretty Enlightenment-minded, rationale, logical kind of guy. I don’t believe in ghosts, Atlantis, Bigfoot, government conspiracies to hide aliens, or honest politicians. I like empirical evidence.

There are times when logically, I don’t understand how I became and remain a Christian, let alone a Christian minister. The Vulcan part of me realizes that I have no evidence or proof of God. The practical side of me says that my life could be easier without my faith – I would have more money, time and energy to spend on myself and my family rather than on pesky stuff like ‘loving your neighbor’ and taking care of ‘the least of these.’

By several different standards that I use in my life Christianity just doesn’t make sense to me.

Yet, here I am.

This is where the Schleiermacher quote comes in, because when you press me to tell you why I’m a Christian, then I will say that at some deep level inside me it just feels right. Not in an emotional, touchy-feely sort of way, but in an intuitive “this is how the world is” sort of way. And even in the face of some pretty deep theological and existential crises, that intuitive feeling has not left me.

This is how my faith happens. Thanks for helping me articulate it, Freddy.

The More You Do, the Less You Accomplish

I wasn’t around when “I Love Lucy” originally aired but I’m still familiar with this scene:

I wonder if this feels familiar to many ministers and church volunteers?

My wife and I are finishing our second month as co-pastors at our new church, and we are realizing that the people of our church are an ambitious group! They’ve planned and organized to do many different programs, worship services, classes, and other events. There are so many good ideas and traditions here.

In fact, there are too many good ideas and traditions here.

At least too many for the amount of people that we have ready and willing to make them happen.  Our current organizational structure takes about ninety people to run. That also happens to be the number of people we have in church on a typical Sunday.  In a church of our size we aren’t going to get ninety people to commit to be elders, deacons or committee members.

So if we don’t make adjustments, then we are going to be like Lucy and her friend and we aren’t going to be able to do the job we’ve been asked to do. We might be able to keep up appearances for a while, but in the end nobody is going to want the box of chocolates that went through our line.

So how do we improve? How do we make a better box of chocolates?

We slow down. We do less, but we do it better.  We decide what are the most important things that we do, and we commit to doing them with a high level of quality. Even if that means we have to stop doing some of the things we do now.

We won’t be able to pack as many boxes of chocolate, but the ones we do pack, will be ones that we will be proud to offer to anyone and everyone.